"Happy New Year, Chief," I said.
"Not for you, it isn't," he growled. "You're down for an assignment."
My eyes sparkled. "Oh goody-woody!" I exclaimed. "Whatever on Earth can it be? Do I have to smoke reefers and root out a dope ring, huh? Must I disguise myself as a customer again and investigate the vice syndicate? Will I get a chance to shoot some beautiful blond in the navel?"
"Only with a water-pistol," the Chief grunted. "For the next year, your job is to become a science-fiction fan."
My eyes fell. Picking them up on the first bounce, I stared at him incredulously. "You mean --?"
"Just that." The Chief nodded. "Orders are to get the dope on this science-fiction racket. Read the books and magazines. Read the fanzines. Write for them. Circulate around at the conventions. The works, understand? I don't care what you have to do to find out the truth. Even if you get a crewcut and smoke a pipe and listen to Stan Kenton records. Even if you talk to Lynn Hickman --"
"Now wait a minute," I said.
"Well, maybe you won't have to go that far," the Chief said. "But anything goes, within reason. Remember, it's all unofficial, and this department will not be connected with the investigation. From now on, you're on your own."
"My own what?"
"Your own assignment," the Chief said. "Get going!"
I got. During the past twelve months of 1954, I have explored fandom from top to bottom -- actually, not a considerable distance at that, when you come to think of it. I can truthfully say that I know fandom inside out and upside down; which it usually is, anyway. I have waded through FAPA mailings, swum through SAPS, and drowned in the downpour of THE IMMORTAL STORM. I have contemplated, contributed, convened, and convalesced.
And the results? Did I find communism in fandom? No. Did I find fellow-travelers? No. Did I find Tucker's ten of clubs? Nah. I didn't even find the guy who sawed Courtney's boat.
After a solid year of fan activity, I can safely say that the average devotee of science-fiction is just a typical, normal, wholesome, American boy who is proud to wear a beanie on his typical, normal, pointed American head. Like millions of other average youths, he indulges in feuds, spends all his money on stencils, and writes the tag-lines of Campbell editorials on lavatory walls.
Of course, not all fans are typical American boys. Some of them are typical Canadian or English boys. Upon investigation, I even discovered that some of them are typical American girls. (This was the part of the job I liked best).
In the pursuit of knowledge, I read approximately 200 fanzines issued during the 12-month period. Of these, about 160 were written in English and the other 40 were published in England and written in some strange cuneiform script which is completely undecipherable.
I found nothing subversive in any of these publications, and very little that was versive, either. Except for a rash of Little Willies. These strange quatrains appeared largely during the early months of the year, but seem to be approaching extinction; a state which they well deserve.
During the last six months of 1954, most fanzines have assumed an entirely new aspect; consisting largely of scattered masses of solid type used for the sole purpose of setting off interlineations. There seem to be two main categories: A dirty remark thunk up by Eric Frank Russell and printed without his name on it, or a clean remark thunk up by DeanGrennell and duly credited to him, or six other guys.
Of course, fanzines still manage to preserve a bit of their distinctive science-fiction flavor. With discussions of MAD, PANIC, POGO, bop, sports cars, McCarthy, religion, racial discrimination, cooking recipes, alcoholic beverages, sexual mores, and other such "out of this world" topics.
The stodgy old "pro" magazines continue to print their hackneyed stories of adventures in the far future and tales set on other planets or in outer space -- but every true fan devoutly hopes they will mend their ways and attune their content to genuine fannish interests.
Both the "prozines" and the science-fiction books have, by the way, improved measurably during the past year. About a year and a half ago, when the slump hit the science-fiction market, any number of wise critics among the fans rushed into print with variations of the selfsame article. It usually ran something like this:
"Well, the bubble has busted, just as I knew it would, yesiree! Mags and hard-covers are biting the dust, rates are dropping like crazy, and the boom is over.
But am I discouraged? Ha, ha, not me! I think it's a damned good thing. Now all those lazy authors who've been grinding out crud for big money are gonna have to get to work again. No more sitting around and lapping up Jim Beam -- they'll really hump and sweat for a chance to get even 1¢ a word in a highly competitive market. But that's really proof that every cloud has a silver lining -- because from now on, we readers can expect some masterpieces again."
And of course, all of these profound fan critics were proven to be 100% correct in 1954.
Instead of such degenerate slime as THE DEMOLISHED MAN, GRAVY PLANET, BRING THE JUBILEE, FAHRENHEIT 451, THE LOVERS, MORE THAN HUMAN, etc, etc, the Jim Beam-less writers crouching in their garrets have produced such immortal classics as --
Well. Ulp. Uh. Mebbe the rates aren't low enough yet, huh, boys? The way I figure it as a fan critic, 1¢ a word is really still too much, even on publication or later. Perhaps if we cut the field to just two magazines, quarterly, and drop the rate to say 1/4¢ a word, then we get the masterpieces, hey? Why sure, that must be the answer. Even if authors, editors, and publishers alike protest that you've got to establish high rates to justify time spent on a firstclass story, we fan critics in our omniscience know better. We know that those dirty dogs of pros don't really begin to function until they're down to fighting weight -- about 80 pounds, that is.
Anyway, the pro situation will bear watching in the coming year.
Meanwhile, 1954 showed some significant changes in fanactivity. The first six months produced a surprising upsurge of Canadiantics. The last six months offered similar progress in the British Isles, which offered so many of those cuneiforms previously mentioned. Opinions regarding the use of this strange language vary; there are, however, two leading theories. One is that British fanzines are printed at Stonehenge, by druids, in their native tongue. The other is that British fanzines are secretly subsidized by local optometrists who seek to increase their income from Socialized Medicine. Whatever the real story may be, it's nice to see such glowing interest.
The rest of my investigations involved attending various fan-gatherings and conventions. During the course of the year such functions took place in Detroit, New York City, Oklahoma, Bellefontaine, San Francisco, and Chicago -- in the United States area. I managed to circulate at the last three affairs mentioned, disguised as a typical fan (I poured a can of warm beer over my head and wore a large placard, reading REMEMBER THE SKYHOOK THAT WORE REDD BOGGS).
The harmonious gathering at Bellefontaine can best be described by referring the reader to the 27th quatrain of the RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM. San Francisco was a frenzied war-dance around a diminutive stone idol named Harlan Ellison. Chicago was Wilson Tucker's own personal demonstration that First Fandom is not Dead, But after Five Days of Revelry It Comes damned Close!
Subversive activities in fandom? Never! Roars go up and doors go down, new fandoms rise and old bottles fall, but the commie taint just ain't.
And that's what I'm reporting to the Chief at the year's end. 1954 was normal in fannish circles. As to what 1955 will bring, who knows? Maybe I'll draw an assignment as a sewer inspector. Lots of good openings there ..
--- Robert Bloch
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